First, congratulate yourself. Just reading this article is a huge step toward becoming tobacco free. Many people don't quit smoking because they think it's too hard to do. They think they'll quit someday.
It's true, for most people quitting isn't easy. After all, the nicotine in cigarettes is a powerfully addictive drug. But with the right approach, you can overcome the cravings.
The Difficulty in Kicking the Habit
Smokers may have started smoking because their friends did or because it seemed cool. But they keep on smoking because they became addicted to nicotine, one of the chemicals in cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.
Nicotine is both a stimulant and a depressant. That means it increases the heart rate at first and makes people feel more alert (like caffeine, another stimulant). Then it causes depression and fatigue. The depression and fatigue — and the drug withdrawal from nicotine — make people crave another cigarette to perk up again. According to many experts, the nicotine in tobacco is as addictive as cocaine or heroin.
But don't be discouraged; millions of Americans have permanently quit smoking. These strategies can help you quit, too:
Put it in writing. People who want to make a change often are more successful when they put it in writing. So write down all the reasons why you want to quit smoking, such as the money you will save or the stamina you'll gain for playing sports. Keep that list where you can see it, and add to it as you think of new reasons.
Get support. People whose friends and family help them quit are much more likely to succeed. If you don't want to tell your parents or family that you smoke, make sure your friends know, and consider confiding in a counselor or other adult you trust. And if you're having a hard time finding people to support you (if, say, all your friends smoke and none of them is interested in quitting), you might consider joining a support group, either in person or online.
More Strategies That Work
Set a quit date. Pick a day that you'll stop smoking. Tell your friends (and your family, if they know you smoke) that you're going to quit smoking on that day. Just think of that day as a dividing line between the smoking you and the new and improved nonsmoker you'll become. Mark it on your calendar.
Throw away your cigarettes — all of your cigarettes. People can't stop smoking with cigarettes still around to tempt them. Even toss out that emergency pack you have stashed in the secret pocket of your backpack. Get rid of your ashtrays and lighters, too.
Wash all your clothes. Get rid of the smell of cigarettes as much as you can by washing all your clothes and having your coats or sweaters dry-cleaned. If you smoked in your car, clean that out, too.
Think about your triggers. You're probably aware of the situations when you tend to smoke, such as after meals, when you're at your best friend's house, while drinking coffee, or as you're driving. These situations are your triggers for smoking — it feels automatic to have a cigarette when you're in them. Once you've figured out your triggers, try these tips:
- Avoid these situations. For example, if you smoke when you drive, get a ride to school, walk, or take the bus for a few weeks. If you normally smoke after meals, make it a point to do something else after you eat, like read or call a friend.
- Change the place. If you and your friends usually smoke in restaurants or get takeout and eat in the car, suggest that you sit in the no-smoking section the next time you go out to eat.
- Substitute something else for cigarettes. It can be hard to get used to not holding something and having something in your mouth. If you have this problem, stock up on carrot sticks, sugar-free gum, mints, toothpicks, or even lollipops.
Physical and Mental Effects
Expect some physical symptoms. If you smoke regularly, you're probably physically addicted to nicotine and your body may experience some symptoms of withdrawal when you quit. These may include:
- headaches or stomachaches
- crabbiness, jumpiness, or depression
- lack of energy
- dry mouth or sore throat
- desire to pig out
Luckily, the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal will pass — so be patient. Try not to give in and sneak a smoke because you'll just have to deal with the symptoms longer.
Keep yourself busy. Many people find it's best to quit on a Monday, when they have school or work to keep them busy. The more distracted you are, the less likely you'll be to crave cigarettes. Staying active is also a good way to make sure you keep your weight down and your energy up, even as you're experiencing the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
Quit gradually. Some people find that gradually decreasing the number of cigarettes they smoke each day is an effective way to quit. However, this strategy doesn't work for everyone — you may find you have to stop completely at once. This is known as "cold turkey."
Use a nicotine replacement if you need to. If you find that none of these strategies is working, you might talk to your doctor about treatments. Using a nicotine replacement, such as gum, patches, inhalers, or nasal sprays, can be very helpful. Sprays and inhalers are available by prescription only, and it's important to see your doctor before buying the patch and gum over the counter. That way, your doctor can help you find the solution that will work best for you. For example, the patch requires the least effort on your part, but it doesn't offer the almost instantaneous nicotine kick that gum does.
If you slip up, don't give up! Major changes sometimes have false starts. If you're like many people, you may quit successfully for weeks or even months and then suddenly have a craving that's so strong you feel like you have to give in. Or maybe you accidentally find yourself in one of your trigger situations and give in to temptation.
If you slip up, it doesn't mean you've failed, it just means you're human. Here are some ways to get back on track:
- Think about your slip as one mistake. Take notice of when and why it happened and move on.
- Did you become a heavy smoker after one cigarette? We didn't think so — it happened more gradually, over time. Keep in mind that one cigarette didn't make you a smoker to start with, so smoking one cigarette (or even two or three) after you've quit doesn't make you a smoker again.
- Remind yourself why you've quit and how well you've done — or have someone in your support group, family, or friends do this for you.
Reward yourself. As you already know, quitting smoking isn't easy. Give yourself a well-deserved reward! Set aside the money you usually spend on cigarettes. When you've stayed tobacco free for a week, 2 weeks, or a month, buy yourself a treat like a new CD, book, movie, or some clothes. And every smoke-free year, celebrate again. You earned it.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2009